A lot of Islanders know Cynthia Flynt from the food cooperative at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, where she helps organize volunteers, oversee membership drives and schedule Saturday morning produce distributions. Or they might know her from the yoga classes she offered this past summer at Cassandra Bliss’s Better Being Wellness Center on North Ferry Road.
But they may not know of her longtime career in the world of movie costume design.
She grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a place filled with cultural richness. The Clark Art Institute, “a wonderful museum,” was across the street and “our indoor playground,” Ms. Flynt said. Not only is it a college town with galleries and museums and concerts, the Williamstown Theatre Festival is there with its schedule of summer shows. Two of her three older siblings, two brothers and a sister, worked there growing up. When she was old enough, she did as well. “It was sort of a rite of passage,” she remembered.
In high school, she took a course in architecture and thought for a while it might be the path she would follow. But she became a theatre major while attending the University of Vermont — still thinking, nevertheless, that architecture could be a part of it, perhaps designing sets.
Then she took her first course in costuming. “I never left the costume shop,” she said of the experience. “I felt like I was home.” Her grandmother had a huge love of fabric, style and fashion and Cynthia had absorbed it all as a child.
Although she learned how to use a sewing machine and how to use patterns, the technical aspects were not her forte. But in time, “I got to work on big enough things. I could get people to sew for me.”
After graduation in 1981, she moved to New York and continued to take classes in costuming at the Lester Polakov Studio of Stage Design, which later became the Studio and Forum of Scene Design. “It was grad school for those of us who couldn’t afford NYU or Yale,” she said.
While there, a chance came up to work on a small film for no salary. It was “like going to a party every day. We’d gather, set the scene up, then go out of the room while they shot the scene. It didn’t feel like work.”
Back working in theatre, she did an internship at the Juilliard School for a year in its costume shop. “It was great, but in a basement, and I came to realize that all theatre costume shops are in basements.”
When she compared theatre to film, she knew what she wanted. Every time that she had a chance at a film job, she took it, developing a good resume in the process. She was young and carefree, able to travel without constraints. She went to Mexico and Alaska, to Indiana and Iowa and was fascinated to learn about people and places and get paid for it.
She did her first major film in 1988, “Eight Men Out,” the story of the Black Sox baseball scandal, which featured period costumes from the early 20th century. Work with the director Penny Marshall followed almost steadily from 1989 to 2000. She found the work rewarding, especially “A League of Their Own,” the story of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It was set in 1943 and was another costume designer’s dream.
Meanwhile, in 1990, she met through friends her husband, David Kreigel, an architect. “If I wasn’t going to be one, at least I could marry one, and enjoy both the pain and the pleasure,” she said. They still live in Brooklyn, where she had her first child, daughter Sophie, in 1993. She went into labor while David was negotiating the purchase of their Shelter Island home on Burns Road, opposite St. Gabriel’s. Instead of living on their boat off Dering Harbor or staying with David’s mother in East Hampton, the house qualified them for the first time as full-fledged Shelter Island “summer people.”
Sophie is now at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1996, her son, Malcolm, was born. He’s still in high school in Brooklyn.
She had been fortunate that Penny Marshall shot almost exclusively in New York City, making the combination of work and motherhood easier than it might have been. But over the years, she found it harder to be enthusiastic about one movie project after another. “I had kids [so that I could] to raise them, not to have someone else raise them,” she said. And she was ready for some kind of change, especially after 9/11 inspired her to rethink her life.
She’d been taking yoga since the mid ‘80s, going to classes whenever she could in between films. Being in her 40s, she would find herself in classes with people in their 20s. Her teachers were all young, “wonderful but young, and they didn’t know what I was feeling, what things were happening in my joints.” That sparked her imagination and it slowly dawned on her that maybe she should be developing classes for older people.
She was inspired to take a teachers training course and see where that would lead. After her first 200 hours of training in the winter of 2011, “It all started to fall into place.” She took another 300 hours this past winter, moving to the next level.
She feels there’s much more to learn, “if you want to be a responsible teacher,” and especially dealing with bodies in transition. She laughs as she sums things up: “I was very concerned with the body from the outside, with looks and costumes, and now I’m concerned with the body from the inside.”
She and David come for the whole summer. Both are enthusiastic boaters and, as her children grow up, she has more time to give to Island events. Long interested in environmental concerns, and wanting to be involved in “more than entertainment,” she jumped at the chance to be involved when Sylvester Manor linked up with CSA, Community Supported Agriculture.
She hopes many Islanders will come to “Plant and Sing” at Sylvester Manor this weekend, learn about the farm operation there, help plant some garlic or just enjoy everything in sight.